Watt-Cloutier tells the world about life up here

Prestige lecture gives her largest audience ever



When Siila Watt-Cloutier – the activist formerly known as Sheila – delivers her LaFontaine-Baldwin lecture tonight at Inuksuk High School in Iqaluit, she will have her largest Canadian audience ever, she says.

The lecture series, established by Canadian novelist and essayist John Ralston Saul, is one of the most prominent lectures in the country on issues related to the public good.

It receives major media attention and coverage across the country, and Watt-Cloutier’s 8 p.m. address – and a follow-up roundtable discussion on Saturday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. – will both be broadcast live online to the world by Pond-Inlet-based Isuma TV.

Special guests for the two events will include Governor General Michaëlle Jean, Former governor General Adrienne Clarkson, Saul, who is also Clarkson’s husband and co-chair with her of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk and actor Martha Burns.

Both events take place at the high school, and are free and open to the public.

So Watt-Cloutier, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee in 2007, wants to do her utmost to show her listeners how the struggle against global climate change is about more than just ice and snow.

“It’s going to be a personal, holistic talk about the challenges and the opportunities we have in the Arctic at this time,” she says.

She will walk her listeners through a story about the sustainability of a people whose unique culture makes a vital contribution to the diversity of the world, and – if the rest of the world would be willing to listen and learn – to a better understanding of the Arctic and what it means to the world.

“The Inuit are moving from a traditional way of life to an organizational and institutional way of life,” she says, “and I want to walk our fellow Canadians through that process, and how it is contributing to many of the social ills we are facing.”

“I want to focus on the successes too,”she adds. “We are an independent, self-reliant and resilient people, and many people here have been part of finding solutions. I want to put all that in its historical context.”

“The past is not the past,” Saul said in the inaugural LaFontaine-Baldwin lecture in 2000. “It is the context. The past – memory – is one of the most powerful, practical tools available to a civilized democracy.”

That idea of past as context is very much in Watt-Cloutier’s mind as she prepares for tonight’s lecture.

We’re at a time in our history, in our communities, she says, where we have to find a balance between the benefits of moving ahead quickly on resource development and pacing ourselves until technological developments catch up to allow us to manage our resources in more environmentally friendly ways.

That, she says, is where the values-based wisdom that has allowed the Inuit to “keep the environment intact while using what we need,” needs to come to the fore again.

Originally from Kuujjuuaq, Watt-Cloutier has lived for many years in Iqaluit. She is a member of the Order of Canada, and was the first recipient of Canada’s Northern Medal.

A former president (1995-98) and chair (2002-06) of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, she was nominated for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for her global work on a range of social and environmental issues affecting the Inuit and the world, particularly climate change and persistent organic pollutants.

The LaFontaine-Baldwin lecture, established by Saul in memory of two historic Canadian reformers, Louis LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin, is presented by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship and the Dominion Institute.

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